November 5, 2012

High School Volleyball Challenges.....

Hi Coach, 

My daughter just completed her 10th grade and first Varsity year. She is a very accomplished jo player with regional and national 1st team selections. 

Several D1 schools have her on their charts as well as Top 10 D3 schools. Her varsity coach will not play young talent and stated before the year started that she would not be able to beat out the other 2 outside hitters. She then hardly played in a 10 match summer tourney -  Inexplicably he did not give his younger players time nor evaluate them but already selected his rotations for the year - and stuck with them for 24 season matches and never deviating.   

The team started poorly and ended up at .500, the most losses in 25 years. Last year they finished 3rd in the state and the Junior OH my daughter is behind did not play but was on Varsity. The coach essentially gave her the position and never allowed my daughter to prove her skills or compete for a spot. It was an amazingly frustrating year and being a sports guy, I could hardly watch. I know JO's is where its at for girls that want to play in college. It doesn't make up for losing her entire soph season sitting behind a lessor player who's stats show she was a mediocre front row player. He plays upperclassman and favorites and when he decides its your time to play, only then will you play. 

What I'm seeing is not based on logic, skills, or fairness. My daughter was not willing to ask for more playing time this year being the youngest player on the team. I don't feel it would have mattered. She played in the first 5 matches of the year and was playing well leading the team in serve % and passing very well from the back row. But then stopped getting playing time when the jr. asked for more playing time. 

I played college sports, have a very good knowledge of vb, and my daughter was simply short changed this year. What would you advise for my daughter to do? I cannot let her waste another hs year just because a coach says she should. I know what I'm seeing but not sure how to handle it. Thank you for any input.  JS

Thank you for your email and you are in a challenging, but a common situation - An illogical High School season situation.

Three points, and then a decision:

1.  Club Volleyball, as you mentioned, is the dominant factor in the recruiting process.  High school has become a time filler between the ever increasing club volleyball calendar season.  Looking at your VolleyDaughter's situation from a recruiting perspective, if her goal is to play collegiate volleyball, than the high school season really does not matter.  College coaches understand that high school volleyball can be a different animal.  As college coaches, we sometimes feel we have won the lottery when a committed PSA has an intelligent and stable high school coach; there are many high school coaches which fit this description and many who do not.  Don't sweat this from a college volleyball recruiting scenario.

2.   You are not going to send me a Christmas card, but there is a certain logic to what the high school coach is doing - By limiting his starting lineup to the upper clansmen, he has eliminated any evaluation/talent decisions, and he has a 'logical' fall back explanation if and when he is questioned by anyone.  In a sense, it is a brilliant plan to deal with the craziness of being a high school coach; wait your turn and then you will play.  This way, he can hide behind his protocol, as not to have to make tough decisions on who has the talent to be starting.  Also, it protects him from irate upper clansmen parents, and accompanying calls to the Athletic Director, when Mom/Dad are upset because their senior daughter got beat out by a stud sophomore.  And, as long as he is going to the State tournament and doing well every couple of years, then he is good to go.

3.  Because the High School volleyball season is the filler between club season, especially so when a PSA has elite level talent and the program/coach does not, it is best to view this time segment as free volleyball touches.  Even though she is not playing in matches, she is still touching a volleyball in practice and still has the opportunity to use this time segment to get better (even if it is in small increments).  If she is playing elite level club, and has quality club coaches, then she should know the skills sets she needs to keep sharp and needs to improve upon.  You cannot control how good/bad the high school coach is, but you can control your effort/focus to maximize each day you are in the gym with a volleyball and a net.

The Decision:

Do you stay or do you go - There are really only two options; 1) Pull her out of HS Volleyball and then pay for private lessons to keep her touches upon the ball so she does not go three months between getting good repetitions.  2)  Stay in the HS program, maximize the environment to get the touches and wait patiently until it is her turn.

My STRONG suggestion is #2, but to change your mentality - I would just step back and view this as a marginal camp, in which you did not have to pay a camp fee.  You can't control the coach, you can't control the protocol, and to stress about it just will seep through into your daughter.  Enjoy the fact that your baby girl comes back home every night and gives you a hug/kiss before bedtime.  You will blink your eyes and she will be gone to college.  

Remember the old saying, "the one eyed man is king of the blind"?  Well, you are that man - All you can do is just stay positive, enjoy her warming up and being a positive teammate, watch her being a teenager with her buddies on the bench, give her big smiles when she glances your way, and then when she has waited her turn, enjoy her being the best player on the court.

Coach Matt Sonnichsen


  1. My DD had a similiar situation (but to a lesser degree) and I have seen the same situation at other schools with girls who would later be All State or PrepVB Senior Aces.

    In our case, we tried to make lemonade. First, don't openly bad moouth the coach in front of DD, as most teens will interpret that as a free pass to disrespect the coach. Once that starts to happen, all sorts of bad teen behavior can begin - first coach, then teachers. First HS coach, then club coach. First coach, then parents. etc.

    Second, focus the energy and frustration as best as you can. Assuming your DD is on the practice player side of the court. You can work on skills against 'more accomplished' players. Questions like - Who did you facial today? helps channel the hostility. But other, more productive practice goals - Did you see the block? How is the line shot doing? Work on cut shot today? How's your tip? Did you dig every ball? Cover every tip? etc. Using the time to experiment without the pressure of club can help make improvements prior to club season.

    Lastly, it may, with your support, teach patience and humility. That opportunities are not just given and when it is, it must be valued.

    My last advice is to be a parent and NOT a sports agent. I have seen parents try to help with coaches meetings or letters to the AD and even the school board. These actions almost always ruin the player - making a so that a player has to leave the team/school or making it public, to college recruiters, that the player is difficult. (Not a desireable trait while recruiting.)

    It is frustrating for both player and parents. But, I've found that you can smile with clenched teeth.


    1. Thank you coach, and VolleyDad19. So much has been asked and explained. My DD is a freshman OH behind two seniors. She got to play in a non-league game with 12 kills in the last two games of the best of 5. And we won. After that, rode the bench and became an awesome cheerleader for the team! But she made the 1s level of a national club and will likely start. Did not say anything to coach even when we talked on other things. Other parents, and other non-vb coaches would wonder why DD not in the game. Really had to clench those teeth! Hopefully, next year will be different. Without this resource, Coach, many of vb parents would go crazy without being able to gain sanity through your blog! Thank you, thank you, thank you....

  2. Yep, seen it here before as well. The advice is good but also easier said than done in smiling while gritting your teeth. There should be no reason a coach locks into upperclassman under any circumstances, unless they are better. How a coach would not evaluate his up and coming players in a scrimmage makes very little athletic sense, not just volleyball.

    It can be very unfair for any talented player to waste an entire year sitting because a coach or a program requires that someone sits. Play the best players while initially setting the expectations with the upperclassman and their parents, and all problems go away.

    I gave my daughter some of the same advice but to go to practice with an internal chip on her should to fuel her energy, while remaining a good team player, which I'm sure your DD done. Coaches should be held up to standard's as well and too often illogical decisions are made when everyone else knows what going on. These kind of coaching motives lead to him/her eventually getting move out. I'm guessing in this case the coach's personnel choices had as much to do with the .500 season as anything.

    There is no real good way to funnel frustration in these cases. You will be forced to deal with patience as the coach holds the power. Use the off season to work even harder while remembering you don't want the next year to go like the last!

  3. So glad to hear we are not alone in this scenario. My DD wants to play L in college and made the switch playing in club. In the very first few games of the year, she had a near flawless game against a powerhouse with D1 OH on the other team. In fact, 2 other dad's said "looks like we found our L for the rest of the year". She never played L again. We lost by wide margins all year long and the coach would not put her there. Eventually, her confidence eroded and finished out the year very frustrated. Why should incompetent coaches continue to get away with dubious decisions when everyone else can see they are wrong? I guess sooner or later someone will notice but by then, it's on to college and too late.


  4. I think there is another component to this that I have seen in Texas. There are some high schools in the Southern portion of Texas that have made it a policy to prohibit kids from playing high school sports if they play club sports anywhere. The high schools are seening a drain of participation in their sports programs due to the better environment of club. I have even heard a high school coach have a negative bias towsrds club players. This strategy the coach is using might also be a way to level the playing field for people who can and can't play club vb and could be a unwritten school policy to level the competition.

  5. As a band and volleyball parent, I just have to chime in. The situation of playing upperclassmen in high school volleyball is very analogous to choosing soloists for band concerts. In the band at our school, only seniors get a solo. Regardless of how well your freshman or sophomore musician plays or outplays older peers, only seniors get the solos. Why? Because when all is said and done, after 4 years of practice and private lessons and cheering on cold bleachers for marching band with band boosters and bake sales, as a band director, you want to highlight the commitments of the seniors over the last 4 years. Yes, you could be a stud underclassman who performs better. You might feel that as a stud sophomore, you deserve the solo sooner, but you will get your time in the limelight soon. When it comes time to your own senior year, I'm sure you and your parents would feel differently if a younger more accomplished player took away your spotlight during your last year. High school has a hierarchy and we must all respect and share the spotlight. Whether you play in the band or are out on a volleyball court, enjoy the ride and know that your time to shine will definitely come.
    - Virginia Volleyball Mom

    1. Sorry Virginia Mom, but I have to majorly disagree with you on this one. Sports is about competition and winning with other lessons learned along the way. High Schools today are built to win and if the outcome didn't matter, there would be no scoreboard. In solo band acts, they don't keep a score, have referees, have standings, or tournaments to find out who the best team is. No real offense but part of the issue is in fact individuals with this perception that you wait for your turn. While seniors may have sat behind better upperclassman previously, a sophomore may have spent hundreds more hours training, working out in the gym, driving all over getting lessons to improve her game. Age has no place in HS sports as the determining factor, the best players play - plain and simple. If you are better and can help your team win more than the senior, you do deserve to play and there is no other way to look at it. Parents with this view would push their senior DD to beat out the stud sophomore and tell them they have to earn it and not that the spot is theirs because they waited their turn. This instills entitlement and not a competitive atmosphere where athletes learn to compete. Not playing is a harsh reality in sports but it should be because you weren't the better player not because you are the younger player. Even though Club is where it is at for recruiting and highest level, discounting a HS season shouldn't have to be the case just because parents and the player think it's their turn because they are a Senior. That may be what is right in your mind but it is not what is right for the team. Band is a curricular activity but it is not a sport. They don't make cuts. They don't compete against other bands. If they did, the sophomore soloist would trump the less talented Senior, I have no doubt.

      Volleyball Mom

  6. Just from my perspective. My 2nd daughter,,,the one who is going to play @ a D1 school starting fall of 2013,,,high school does not matter. For the emotional attachment to the school and her friends,,,perhaps. Thou in the collegiate recruiting element,,,,only club matters.

    My daughter has NEVER had a situation where she enjoyed going back to Junior High VB after club ball,,,and never from going from club back to high school. The whole situation is totally different. Club ball is where it is at. Sure there may be more parents and fans at high school matches,,,thou the college coaches will see the player at club.

    Grin and bear. Difficult,,,I feel your pain. Enjoy club and the possibilities that go with it,,,being recruited and working for nationals and getting better. Take care.


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